AMERICAN FORK, Utah (ABC4) — A Utah man who was accused of human trafficking and taking part in a prostitution ring has filed a lawsuit against the City of American Fork and an officer with the American Fork Police Department, claiming the allegations were racist and had ruined his life.
The lawsuit says that on the day of Joseph Ferreri’s arrest in February 2021, his life was ruined.
“On that day, he left work at the Utah State Prison as usual,” the lawsuit reads. “While driving home to Utah County, he saw flashing lights and pulled over. To Joe’s utter shock, he was arrested.”
Ferreri had been accused of being part of an international sex trafficking ring. Ferreri and several others were arrested, alleging that sexual acts were being exchanged at several massage parlors around American Fork and Orem. Before the case ever made it to trial, all charges against Ferreri, as well as the others accused, were dropped.
Ferreri now says his only crime was being married to a Chinese woman.
According to the lawsuit, Ferreri would pick up and drop off his wife Juying Wang, who was also arrested, at the massage parlor where she works. The two shared one car, so Ferreri says it was not uncommon for him to drop her off on his way to work and pick her up again on his way home. Ferreri and Wang married in Texas in 2017, two years before the allegations of human trafficking were made.
Ferreri claims the arresting officer, Shawn Lott, made generalizations and stereotypical assessments in the events leading up to the allegations and arrests. The lawsuit said in his request for a search warrant, Lott generalized by saying “Most, if not all, Asian massage businesses operate the same. In my training and experience, I have learned how these criminal organizations are operating with minimal risk to the business owner.”
Lott further allegedly wrote, “In the Asian culture, family honor is among the highest level of priority to these Asian female victims. The criminal organizations often threaten to contact their families and provide them with information of voluntary prostitution occurring in the United States, which is unwanted by the female victims.”
Police had reportedly received an anonymous tip from a concerned citizen in December 2020 of an “older white male” picking up a “Chinese girl” from a massage parlor and taking her to a house in Lindon. The older white male was later identified as Ferreri by detectives, who said they observed the car stopping at the massage parlor on “multiple occasions,” according to the lawsuit. In his affidavit at the time, Lott allegedly said it was not uncommon for trafficked girls to be dropped off and picked up by someone other than the business owner in “an attempt to thwart law enforcement investigations.”
The lawsuit claims investigators into the case failed to do due diligence in confirming Wang as Ferreri’s wife, such as calling the records office in Texas. The lawsuit further claims Lott made “false and unsubstantiated” representations about Ferreri, including saying he was uncooperative and lying, despite there reportedly being audio of Ferreri saying he would “cooperate 100%” with a lawyer present.
Ferreri said the allegations had devastating effects on his life. In the lawsuit, Ferreri said he was only able to find work in a coal mine as nowhere else would hire him. His friends and strangers in the small town where he lived gave him “disgusted looks.” He and his wife were estranged for several months following the allegations, though they have since reconciled.
Due to the allegations, Ferreri said he lost his job at the Utah State Prison and his opportunity to reach a 20-year pension. The loss of work also caused Ferreri to lose his health insurance, according to the lawsuit. Without the health insurance, Ferreri said a tumor in his leg went largely unnoticed and he accrued “substantial” medical bills after a heart attack.
For what Ferreri and his attorneys say are violations of his constitutional rights, Ferreri is seeking compensation for economic damages as well as emotional distress caused by the allegations.
The lawsuit can be read in its entirety below: